The decision passed down this week by the regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago ruling that Northwestern University football payers are essentially employees of the University has rocked the sports world this week. The pundit class as well as sports junkies across the country have been feverishly debating the consequences of the ruling, both intended and unintended. Much of the media coverage has focused on the ramifications that this could have on a range of issues from the traditional concept of the student–athlete, the fundamental role of the NCAA and the impact on Title 9. And this doesn't even scratch the surface.
Ironically, what may have the most long-term impact not only on one of America’s favorite pastimes but on America itself is absent from the coverage and subsequent debate. What the general public and the largely sympathetic media are failing to understand is that this isn’t really big news at all. It's merely the latest example of the growing activism of the NLRB and their strategic and systematic lowering of the threshold of what qualifies as a union. The NLRB is not supposed to be in the labor activism space. In theory, it is supposed to act as a neutral arbiter overseeing the interaction of management and labor unions and acting as judge and jury ensuring that each side is playing by the established rules. It is supposed to protect employees and employers. But things have changed dramatically, especially in the last five years.
The Obama Administration has intentionally and deliberately re-cast the traditional role of the NLRB from neutral referee to highly compensated offensive coordinator of the union organizing agenda. Of late, their playbook has included cutting in half the timeframe for a unionization election to a mere 45 days, restricting the access employers can have to their own employees during that period, the proposed papering of all common areas in a place of employment with posters outlining an employees right to unionize, and the granddaddy of them all, the legitimatization of non-profit “worker centers’’ which act as new mini-unions specifically designed to operate totally outside of traditional labor laws that the NLRB is supposed to be enforcing.